Is Street Meat Safe?


My friend, who we’ll call H. Cumberdale, recently moved to NYC to attend business school. Discussing the many culinary options available to him there, we inevitably hit upon street kebabs. “Is street meat safe?” he mused. I thought this was an excellent question; I have yet to find the answer.

The NYC Dept. of Health certainly claims to regulate street vendors, and they must go through an application and inspection process as rigorous as any restaurant in the city. However, whether these laws are currently enforced is up for grabs. A New York Times article from 1998 suggested that close to 80% of street vendors were undercooking their meat. It also suggested that the city’s inspectors were confused and overwhelmed when it came to investigating delinquent kebab karts and taco trucks. Now, 10 years later, are things any different? Recent stories have shown police more than willing to crack down on vendors breaking other laws, such as parking carts a few feet out of their proper space.

I contacted the makers of several vendor carts used in the city; none would respond to say whether their products included features designed to make sure meat was being cooked to the proper level. I’m also waiting to see if the Street Vendor Project has any information on vendors keeping up with health codes.

It’s the responsibility of both the city and the vendors to make sure that street meat is safe. It’s an amazing part of our culture, and every great city in the world has its own type of magical carnivore cart. If you have any pictures of street vendors from around the world, send them in and I will post them.

In the meantime, keep in mind that NYC carts are in no way universally safe. Follow the carnivore’s #1 rule: Pay attention what you’re eating! If it’s cold and black, it’s probably not so healthy.

In the meantime, here’s NYMag’s list of the Top 20 Street Vendors in NYC, which is cool, even though #1 is not a meat cart.

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